John Downman A.R.A., Elizabeth Farren (1759-1829), later Countess of Derby, looking to her right, we
Lot 92
John Downman A.R.A., Elizabeth Farren (1759-1829), later Countess of Derby, looking to her right, wearing white dress with pale cream sash, ruffled collar and fichu tied with pale cream ribbon, her powdered curled hair falling over her left shoulder
Sold for £21,510 (US$ 27,122) inc. premium

Lot Details
John Downman A.R.A. (Ruabon 1750 - Wrexham 1824)
John Downman A.R.A., Elizabeth Farren (1759-1829), later Countess of Derby, looking to her right, we
Elizabeth Farren (1759-1829), later Countess of Derby, looking to her right, wearing white dress with pale cream sash, ruffled collar and fichu tied with pale cream ribbon, her powdered curled hair falling over her left shoulder
gold frame, the reverse glazed to reveal wooden reverse with label inscribed in Horace Walpole's hand Miss Farren/ the/ Incomparable/ Actress/ 1787
Oval, 76mm. (3ins.) high
Provenance: Horace Walpole (1717-1797); Strawberry Hill, 6 May 1842, lot 50 (16gns. to the Countess of Wilton)
Walter and Gertrude Rappolt
Exhibited: S.N.P.G. 2000-2003
Literature: D. Foskett, A Dictionary of British Miniature Painters, London, 1972, II, illustrated p.89, no.245
D. Foskett, Collecting Miniatures, Woodbridge, 1979, illustrated opp. p.377, colour pl. 29E
D. Foskett, Miniatures: Dictionary and Guide, Woodbridge, 1987, illustrated opp. p.377, colour pl. 29E


  • The present lot is closely related to a drawing of the same year by Downman, now in the National Portrait Gallery. The drawing was exhibited in 1972 at the same gallery, "The Masque of Beauty", no.29. A print by Mr Collyer after the drawing is illustrated in G. C. Williamson, John Downman, A.R.A., His Life and Works, London, 1907, illustrated p.47. Farren was painted by a number of the great artists from the period often coined as the 'heyday of miniature painting', including Andrew Plimer, Richard Cosway and George Engleheart.

    Elizabeth, was the daughter of George Farren, an actor. She followed her father on to the stage and her first London appearance was in 1777 as 'Miss Hardcastle' in 'She Stoops to Conquer'. She soon established a reputation, playing the Shakespearian parts of Hermione, Olivia, Portia and Juliet. However she preferred parts in Restoration dramas, as Lady Betty Modish, Lady Townly, Lady Fanciful and Lady Teazle.
    A dramatic publication of that period describes her thus 'Her figure is considerably above the middle height, and is of that slight texture which allows and requires the use of full and flowing drapery, an advantage of which she well knows how to avail herself ; her face, though not regularly beautiful, is animated and principal characters in the highest comedy has never been known ; she possesses ease, vivacity, spirit, and humour, and her performances are so little injured by effort, that we have often prepossessing; her eye, which is blue and penetrating, is a powerful feature when she chooses to employ it on the public, and either flashes with spirit or melts with softness, as its mistress decides for the expression she wishes to convey; her voice we never thought to possess much sweetness, but it to refined and feminine; and her smiles, of which she is no niggard, fascinate the heart as much as her form delights the eye. in short, a more complete exhibition of graces and accomplishments never presented itself for admiration before the view of an audience. To this enumeration of personal charms we have to add the list of her talents. It is not wise, indeed, to separate them, they are mutually benefitted and improved by each other. "Dant simul et accipiunt." A rarer combination of nature and art to qualify their favourite for the assumption of the experienced a delusion of the senses, and imagined, whit in a theatre it is so difficult to imagine, that the scene of action to be identified, and Miss Farren really the character she was only at. tempting to sustain; we cannot admit the supposition even that St. James's ever displayed superior evidence of fine breeding than Miss Farren has often done in her own person.'
    In 1797, following a ten year affair, she married Edward Smith-Stanley (1752-1834), 12th Earl of Derby, founder of the Oakes and Derby horseraces. His first marriage had been to Lady Elizabeth Hamilton, when in 1778, she had left him for Lord Dorset, her husband had denied her a divorce, waiting until her death in 1797 to marry his mistress.

    The present lot is known to have belonged to Sir Horace Walpole (1717-97) and was in his famous collection at Strawberry Hill. The handwriting on the reverse of the miniature has been identified as that of Walpole in old age, however, it has not been possible to confirm whether Walpole actually commissioned the miniature from Downman. Walpole’s correspondences show his admiration for Elizabeth Farren, ‘… but I shall see Miss Farren, who in my poor opinion is the first of all actresses’ (regarding the play by Mrs Cowley ‘School for Greybeards’, to Lady Ossory, 12 December 1786; Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, vol. 33, p. 544) and ‘Miss Farren is as excellent as Mrs Oldfield, because she has lived with the best style of men in England’ (to Lady Ossory, 14 June 1787; op.cit. Vol 33, p. 564). Walpole is also known to have commissioned a portrait of Elizabeth by Cosway, ‘Cosway is finishing, in his beautiful manner, two small whole length of Mrs Damer and Miss Farren for Mr Walpole’s collection at Strawberry Hill’ (from the ‘World’, 27 August 1789, no. 826). It is probable that the present lot was part of a group of two portraits of Elizabeth Farren and Mrs Siddons that Downman exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1788, no. 463.

    We are indebted to Felix Pryor for his identification of Walpole's handwriting.
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